At the beginning of the season, I made five bold predictions for the 2021-22 Boston Bruins season. Generally, you don’t find out how your preseason predictions turn out until the end of the season, but this year might be different.
The Bruins’ early-season struggles through the first 26 games of the season had them stuck in mediocrity, but since the New Year, they have been playing better hockey. With that said, let’s take a look at how the preseason predictions are faring at the halfway point of the season.
1. Charlie Coyle Finishes With 40-Plus Assists
This one is on pace to be a miss. Coyle and Jack Studnicka were in a battle in training camp for the second-line center position following David Krejci not returning to Boston and opting to continue his career in the Czech Republic. Studnicka faired well in camp, but Coyle, who missed a majority of camp because of a nagging injury, won the job, and Studnicka was sent to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Playing between Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, Coyle didn’t play bad, he’s just not the playmaker that Krejci was. When coach Bruce Cassidy shuffled around his lines, Coyle was dropped to the third line and Erik Haula was bumped up from the third line between Hall and David Pastrnak. Coyle currently sits on 10 goals and 10 assists, so unless there is a big second half of the season on tap for him, this looks like it will be a miss.
2. Both Special Teams Finish in the Top 5
The Bruins have prided themselves in their special teams under Cassidy and this year has been no different. Both units struggled at the beginning of the season, but recently they have been better and were a big part of the Bruins’ recent seven-game homestand where they went 5-2.
Boston’s power play is currently ranked sixth in the league and is led by Pastrnak with a team-high nine power-play goals. Brad Marchand has six goals on the man advantage to go along with his team-high 15 assists. Patrice Bergeron has five power-play goals and 10 assists, while Charlie McAvoy has four goals and 11 assists. McAvoy’s biggest goal was scored with 45 seconds left in the third period of a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals on Jan. 20.
The Black and Gold’s penalty kill has been good as late after struggling to begin the season and currently ranks ninth in the league. Marchand has two shorthanded goals, but they have got many contributions from different players at forward and on defense. Derek Forbort and Brandon Carlo have been solid on the penalty kill defensively, while Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Coyle, and Curtis Lazar are just a few forwards who have been key penalty killers.
3. Jake DeBrusk Scores 30-Plus Goals
During training camp, DeBrusk, Cassidy, and the Bruins were saying all the right things about a bounce-back season for the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, but by November, the relationship was too damaged and DeBrusk requested a trade.
Primarily playing on the third line with Haula and Nick Foligno, it was thought that maybe the two veterans could help the 23-year-old get back on track and become a 20, or even 30-goal scorer. Things started out well with a goal on opening night against the Dallas Stars, but things slowly went downhill, which led to DeBrusk being a healthy scratch on Nov. 28 against the Vancouver Canucks. Following the game, word had leaked out that the Edmonton native had requested a trade Thanksgiving weekend.
In 37 games, DeBrusk has seven goals and at times, shows some regression to the player he was in 2020-21. There are also times where he looks like the 2018-19 version that was a 20-goal scorer when he’s aggressive, driving to the net, and aggressive on the forecheck. General manager Don Sweeney has said he will take his time in moving DeBrusk to get the return he wants, but a divorce is all but certain sooner rather than later.
4. Jeremy Swayman Wins 20-Plus Games
After a slow start to the season, Swayman and Linus Ullmark played well for the Bruins and were a big reason as to why they were hanging around in the Eastern Conference wild card spot before the COVID-19 shutdown right before Christmas. Following their break, free agent Tuukka Rask signed, which meant that Swayman was going to Providence.
Swayman was 8-6-2 this season before being sent down. He had a 2.31 goals-against average (GAA) with a .916 save percentage (SV%). Cassidy said that Swayman and Ullmark would split time this season and he was true to his word. If Rask had not signed, the former University of Maine standout was going to get close to 20 wins, if not pass 20. Clearly the goalie of the future in Boston, Swayman was recalled to the Bruins Sunday after Rask was sidelined with a lower-body injury.
5. Bruins Finish First or Second in the Atlantic Division
The Bruins’ slow start to the season and the impressive starts from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Toronto Maple Leafs buried the Black and Gold into fighting for a wild card spot, but there is time to try and catch the class of the Atlantic Division.
Boston owns a 5-2 win road over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning and a shootout victory over the Panthers at home, but catching either team is going to be difficult. The Maple Leafs beat the Bruins at home in November and on paper, have more talent than the Black and Gold. There is a lot of work to be done to just get into the playoffs, never mind catching one of the three teams ahead of them.
There is still half a season of hockey left, but not all the returns through the first half of the season have been promising for these bold predictions. The Bruins have some to do to just get into the playoffs. If they can’t catch any of the three division foes in front of them, they’ll have to fend off the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild card spot.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.